It should not be forgotten that Blackpool’s meteoric rise since being brought back from the brink by owner/custodian Simon Sadler has been achieved using a considerable number of players whose respective journeys through the divisions have been equally expeditious, if perhaps more hasty than originally planned.

After the dust has settled on what was a punishing season back in the second tier of English football, Blackpool must now take stock with an unabashed ruthlessness as to who can ‘cut it’ at this level, who has the ability to kick on, but also identify players that are not sufficiently coachable to step up after the same failings continued to surface throughout the 2021/22 campaign.

This isn’t and doesn’t intend to be an exhaustive appraisal of each Blackpool player currently contracted to the club. It has been widely reported that options have been taken up on the likes of Jordan Thorniley, Richard Keogh, and Keshi Anderson, whilst Gary Madine has had his deal extended to a year with the option for an additional season at the seaside. It is though some of the players who are under contract, both long term and in the final year of deals, that come under scrutiny and for whom the club in theory at least are open to offers for.

Chris Maxwell: Blackpool’s club captain, and arguably regarded by head coach Neil Critchley as first choice goalkeeper. Championship football has been a stern examination of Maxwell’s credentials, and whilst injury has hampered the player his return to the side after deputy Daniel Grimshaw was side-lined by Preston’s Jordan Archer has not been an unmitigated success. Distribution can be patchy, and Maxwell’s mobility isn’t the best for a goalkeeper. Flailing at corners during Blackpool’s recent trip to Ewood Park was not what fans expect from a goalkeeper in the Championship, and a mistake in the final home match of the season, versus Derby County, led to the Rams’ first goal. At 32 prior to the start of the 2022/23 season I feel Maxwell should give way to Grimshaw, who then has the opportunity to make the position his own. It wouldn’t surprise me if Maxwell leaves to undertake a more hands on – pun intended – coaching role elsewhere, or even to return to Wrexham should Ryan Reynolds’ side return to the Football League.

Jerry Yates: The judgment of many Blackpool fans regarding Yates is clouded by the amiable, one of us-type persona exuded by the likeable native Yorkshireman. There does though have to be more to life and justifying one’s own existence than being someone with whom the supporters would like to ‘go on the **** with’, to paraphrase the Spirit in the Sky tune adapted and opined to include the striker. After a slow start in League One Yates gradually picked up to ultimately score over 20 goals, and would by most measures have been regarded as a success. However, this has emphatically not been translated into Championship success, with poor finishing and constantly straying offside betraying a lack of football intelligence. At 25 Yates is not beyond being coachable and would perhaps benefit from the services of a dedicated striker coach, but it could be said that Gary Madine has the experience and nous to impart sufficient wisdom. When the same mistakes are made during Yates’ increasingly infrequent appearances on the pitch then it is obvious that if the fans are seeing his limitations, Critchley most certainly will be. Despite a long contract to ward off imaginary or actual interest from other clubs last summer I feel Yates would benefit from a full season in League One, which in the end is likely to be his level. If the likes of Bolton Wanderers or Ipswich Town came in for Yates, it would not surprise me. The only moot point would be if that involved a loan deal, or something more permanent.

CJ Hamilton: Plucked from relative obscurity the former Mansfield Town player has proven to be a lower league Theo Walcott: all the pace, but without a reliable end product. After initially shining in League One Hamilton has, similar to most of Blackpool’s squad at one time or another, been dogged by injury setbacks. All the pace in the world cannot though replace good decision-making and a standard of delivery from wide areas expected of a player plying his trade in the Championship. Time after time, again, a repeat offender, Hamilton got into advantageous positions only for his final ball to be lacking or his shooting to be high, wide, and not particularly handsome. There have also been instances later in the season where the player seemed reluctant to engager in 50-50 challenges with his marker, and on several occasions I have witnessed Gary Madine imploring Hamilton to come in off the flank when Blackpool are in need of extra bodies in the opposition’s penalty area. At 27 I am not convinced that the player is coachable to iron out mistakes which occurred throughout the season. Similar to Yates, it is another example of footballing intelligence at times being conspicuous by its absence. I would anticipate League One being the very zenith of Hamilton’s realistic ambitions.

Josh Bowler: Blackpool have exercised their option to in theory keep Bowler at the club, but after several stellar performances during the early months of 2022 it is anticipated that renewed interest in the player will be firmed up in the summer. It is alleged that Bowler turned down a move to a Championship club – Nottingham Forest or Bournemouth – after Blackpool had accepted a reported £3 million transfer fee for a player acquired on a free transfer. A glut of goals including memorable strikes against the Cherries and Stoke City soon dried up, highlighting the player’s inconsistencies in front of goal and an at times poor delivery from the righthand side of midfield. In what is of course a backhanded compliment opposition sides would double or triple team him to nullify the winger’s threat, although at times he could be left on his own to head down blind alleys and contrive to scupper advantageous positions in the final third of the pitch. However, Bowler, 23, is still young and has the rudiments in his game underpinned by pace and the potential for unpredictability to become a star of the future. Instead of cashing in the player to reinvest anything from £3-7 million into the squad Blackpool have the option to keep Bowler, but will his head have been sufficiently turned by previous interest from higher up the ladder for the option on his contract purely being taken up to enable his employer’s to sell him, rather than losing the player on a free transfer? I would say so. I am relaxed as to which scenario ultimately plays out, although Simon Sadler’s recent admission that there won’t be any large transfer fees paid out by Blackpool this pre-season could suggest that he won’t be directly funding them, rather than them not being facilitated by monies raised from a theoretical sale of Bowler.

Question marks remain over the futures of fullbacks Reece James and Luke Garbutt, for both arguments can be made for their retention or sale. I anticipate that the option taken up on Jordan Thorniley’s contract is purely a housekeeping exercise to maximise what the club can receive for one its highest earners, and as a potential makeweight in any deal involving Oxford United’s Cameron Brannagan, for example.

In whatever way Blackpool structure deals for much needed reinforcements they have to box clever against the Championship’s many big beasts; it could otherwise be a chastening season where survival was sacrificed on the altar of good intentions. From a personal perspective I would like to see the club improve upon Hamilton and Yates, give Daniel Grimshaw the number one jersey and hold out but not be greedy for a decent fee for Josh Bowler. It is though inevitable, whether admitted by the club or otherwise, that certain players will remain at the club in an absence of being able to afford individual upgrades. The club has though become exceptionally competent at keeping its cards close to its chest, so whilst the jungle drums may not be beating and that the transfer rumour mill has for the time being quietened down, don’t bet against the club having already done considerable business for both inward and outgoing transfers to be announced at a later date. It promises to be a fascinating summer, and one that will strongly indicate the likelihood of Championship survival being achieved in or some time before May 2023.

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